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NJC reels out guidelines for court sessions during the covid-19 period

*Bns more than 20 persons in any courtroom

*Virtual court sessions encouraged

*Only extremely important matters are to be heard

*Mandatory fave masks for everybody in court premises

*Judges, lawyers, litigants, must abide by WHO, NCDC covid-19 protocols

*Filed processes to be quarantined for 90 days

By Malachy Uzendu

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has published a long list of guidelines which shall guide court operations nationwide.

The guidelines issued by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammad, have been despatched to heads of courts and respective judicial officers, spelling out the procedures for the conduct of the court’s business including the sitting of the courts. CJN explained that “these guidelines do not replace or substitute for the respective Rules of Courts; they complement the Rules and make specific provisions that would guide justice administration for as long as COVID-19 pandemic shall subsist and possibly beyond”.

He added that “these guidelines shall apply to all courts in the federation, notably, the Federal and States Judiciaries”.

He directed that “heads of Court shall have primary responsibility for ensuring the compliance of the judicial officers over whom they superintend with the provisions of this guidelines it being the intention of Council that justice administration shall continue despite the challenges and glitches occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Part of the guidelines specifies the enforcement of minimum two-meter (6 feet) distance between persons as it relates to all entrants into the premises.

Also, all security personnel who work in the court premises and in particular the security personnel who man the entrance(s) to the court premises must be well informed on COVID-19 including in particular, the methods of its spread, its basic symptoms (e.g. fever, dry cough, tiredness, etc.), how to prevent its spread, etc.

The families mandated all heads of courts at both the federal and state hudiciaries to abide by all the protocols spelt out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) which included compulsory temperature checking, compulsory hand washing and use of hand sanitizer and provision of constant running water in the toilet and other convenient places in the court premises.

The CJN further directed that “court premises including courtrooms, registries, offices and the chambers of judicial officers should be periodically disinfected in such frequencies as the Heads of Courts may determine”.

It also spelt out electronic filing system, but added that “where there is no electronic filing system and pending the institution of such electronic filing systems, hardcopy/paperbased manual filings at the court registries shall continue to be the default filing process for litigants provided that:

“the hardcopy of the processes to be filed should be sanitized with alcohol-based sanitizers by dedicated court officials as soon as they are brought to the registry and left in secure facilities immediately thereafter, without processing, for a minimum period of 96 hours by which time, if there was any coronavirus still attached to the processes, it would have expired”.

Justice Mohammad also directed that “as much as possible, all Courts should encourage and facilitate electronic payments of filing and other fees by litigants. The procedures and details for such e-payments should be continually published by the Courts to Counsel and the general public.

“Assessment of filing fees shall, in all instances, be carried out and determined by designated court officials as stipulated by respective Rules of courts”.

He directed that “where physical hearings are to hold, WHO and NCDC guidelines must be observed.

“Also, There must not be more than 20 persons in any courtroom at any time during any court sitting. This number shall include the Judge, in a trial court sitting”.

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